By TIM DAHLBERG
AP SPORTS COLUMNIST
Michael Vick hit the highway on his first day of semi-freedom, setting off on a 1,176-mile road trip from Kansas to his Virginia home, where he will make the transition from prisoner to his new career as day laborer/Humane Society crusader.
For some strange reason, Vick took along a videographer to record the trek, bathroom pit stops and all. There was security, too, just in case some deranged PETA sort lurked at a Waffle House along the way.
There's a good chance you can read all about it in the near future. The whole sordid Vick saga may even make the big screen someday, if plans for book and movie deals pan out.
Expect a lot of tears, and not just from those saddened by what Vick and his posse liked to do with their fighting dogs. No, this would be a tale of redemption and rebirth about a man who once had everything and now has nothing.
Nothing, that is, if you forget the two lavish homes and three luxury cars that are still in the stable. But those could go, too, if a federal bankruptcy judge doesn't like what he sees when Vick appears before him next month with a new plan to pay the millions owed his creditors.
The man who once dismissed a $1,000 gift to his mother as "chump change" will need to work three weeks in his new construction job to earn that much after taxes. His other duties with the Humane Society have yet to be agreed upon, but the payoff from them will come in a different form of currency.
Together, the two gigs won't be enough to pay the electric bill or fuel up the Range Rover. They won't even begin to make a dent in the $8 million or so the bankruptcy judge estimates Vick will need to make over each of the next three years to pay everyone off.
Granted, a book or movie could help. But, really, don't we know enough about Vick already? Would anyone reach into their pocket to learn more?
My guess is no. And that means any chance Vick has of emerging from his financial mess depends on one thing.
He has to make it on the football field.
The question then becomes, will someone give him that chance?
Ask the players around the NFL, as various Associated Press writers did Wednesday, and the unanimous opinion is that some team should. To a man, they said Vick has paid a huge price for his misdeeds and should be welcomed back into the league, the sooner the better.
"He's paid his debt," said ***** kick returner Allen Rossum, who played three seasons with Vick in Atlanta. "He deserves an opportunity like anybody else. He's a good guy at heart and it's time for people to let him move on with his life and get back in this game, where he's one of the best players out there. I've known him for five years. He's a good guy."
A lot of dog owners might dispute that. So might others sickened by the report of a confidential informant who said that in addition to killing dogs, Vick and others would sometimes toss household pets in with their fighting dogs just for the fun of it.
They will be the people holding up pictures of maimed animals outside of stadiums if Vick is allowed to play in the NFL again. They're the ones who will rally around calls by animal activists to boycott anything Vick is involved in.
But just as I think it is inevitable that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will reinstate Vick's right to play, it's just as certain that some team will risk offending sponsors and fans and take a chance on him.
It probably won't happen this season. Goodell says he won't even speak to Vick until his semi-house arrest ends July 20, when teams will already be in training camp.
It shouldn't happen this season. It's too soon, and the wounds are still way too raw.
But it will happen. As sure as someone like Jerry Jones or Al Davis still owns a team, it will happen.
The usual list of suspects, of course, begins and ends with the Cowboys and Raiders. Neither team has ever been able to resist adding a "problem" to the roster, and Vick would likely be available cheap, at least at first.
A few other teams could be in the mix, perhaps the Redskins or the Dolphins. Most others, though, will wash their hands of it all, either taking the moral high ground or saying they're happy with the quarterbacks they have.
Vick's long journey back began Wednesday with a long drive home, his future no more certain than it was before he was sent to prison. People who have talked to him say he seems genuinely remorseful, and eager to try to show that he's not the monster a lot of Americans believe he is.
If he's able to do that, getting someone to pay him to play football might become a lot easier.